Of all the many esteemed wine-producing regions in North America, western Sonoma County - in particular the area between Healdsburg and the Russian River resort area - stands out not only for its superb wineries and stunning natural scenery, but also for having a tremendous gay following. Less than 90 minutes north of San Francisco via U.S. 101 and fringing the Russian River's gay resort mecca of Guerneville, the Healdsburg Wine Country abounds with terrific wineries.
There are several prominent wine regions in and around Healdsburg, the Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River Road, Green Valley, and Olivet Road. Among the Alexander Valley producers, Passalacqua Vineyard & Winery (3805 Lambert Bridge Rd., Healdsburg, 877-825-5547) makes a highly worthwhile stop. The relatively intimate winery produces just 4,000 cases of wine per year and has become especially acclaimed for their chardonnays, zinfandels, and especially rarified cabernet sauvignons (there's also a perfectly lovely and quite affordable sauvignon blanc that doesn't garner as much attention).
Young and personable owners Jason and Noelle Passalacqua come from an experienced winemaking family, and the on-site winemaker, Margaret Davenport, is exceptionally talented and capable, having worked for many years at the famed Clos du Bois Winery in nearby Geyserville. Davenport, who is openly lesbian (and the mom of a young daughter whom she and her partner, Kristen Johnson, adopted from a Guatemalan orphanage), has been profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle as a "winemaker to watch."
Passalacqua Winery's tasting room and tranquil gardens are open daily 11 am until 5 pm; tours of the winemaking facility are available by appointment. The vineyard also has occasional dinners and music concerts. As is true of so many of Healdsburg's exceptional wineries, the mood here is low-keyed and intimate, and the staff is typically far more available to answer questions and chat with guests than at larger, more commercialized winemakers.